The Arts and U

Molly Sweeney

By Sheri Jardine, UtahPresents

Written by Ireland’s master storyteller Brian Friel and inspired in part by researcher Oliver Sacks’ essay “To See and Not See,” “Molly Sweeney” tells the story of a woman who was blind since childhood. Prompted by the “medical miracle” hopes of both her husband and her surgeon, Molly agrees to a procedure to restore her sight. What follows, in this staged reading featuring U theatre faculty, is a riveting drama about the consequences of pursuing a “cure” at any cost.

The reading is the result of a partnership, now in its third year, between UtahPresents, the Department of Theatre and the Division of Medical Ethics and Humanities. The partnership began in 2015 with a performance of “Mercy Killers” by Michael Milligan, a one-person play focused on the rising costs of health care and the struggles that can come with end-of-life decisions.  The collaboration continued in the 2016-17 season with a reading of Debra Zoe Laufer’s play “Informed Consent” about a researcher who pushes the boundaries of ethical consent for research subjects.

Brooke Horejsi, executive director of UtahPresents, Gretchen Case, associate professor in the Division of Medical Ethics and Humanities and Sydney Cheek-O’Donnell, associate dean for research in the College of Fine Arts, established the partnership to explore the ways in which the arts, and theatre specifically, can connect educational communities across the main and health sciences campuses at the U. These performances are chosen for their attention to ethical issues related to health, health care and the human condition.

Each year, second-year medical students are invited to see a production as part of their coursework and then discuss the impact of the performance and the issues raised.

“With ‘Molly Sweeney,’ we will focus on discussing the idea of ‘cure’ and what constitutes ‘disability,’” said Case. “As we see in the play, pinning everything on a cure doesn’t always lead to the best outcome for the patient. What does it look like to truly involve the patient as part of the care team, to figure out what their goals are for health and life? Students are sometimes surprised by how strongly they respond to these plays, and how valuable it is to address these issues outside of the traditional classroom setting.”

The performances are open to the public and will take place on Feb. 1 and 2 at the Moot Courtroom in the S.J. Quinney College of Law.

Tickets are $10 for the general public and $5 for University of Utah students. U faculty and staff receive a 10 percent discount. Tickets can be purchased in advance at the Kingsbury Hall box office, by calling 801-581-7100 or at